What We Read During COVID-19, Part 1

Returning home after our  year on the road proved extremely busy, which is one of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging. With Dan working reduced hours, I also shifted focus to start pitching articles again so we can bring in a bit of extra cash. Finally, I continue to do user experience testing, which I really enjoy. It won’t make you rich, but the extra pocket cash does help—and it’s fun!

I haven’t written a book post in a while, so I figured there was no better time than the present. However, as I continued to write this post, I realized it was getting sooooo long! So I decided to break it up into individual posts. This will be a series, published each Sunday, about the books we read during social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 and Library Books

The pandemic has meant the temporary closure of many organizations, institutions, and businesses, including libraries across the province, country, and world. We have missed our library very much. We are heavy library users, both as material borrowers and program attendees. We really enjoy our library (we enjoy all libraries, really), and we are on a first name basis with most of the librarians at our branch. Not being able to visit has not been nice, but there’s been a silver lining. The library extended borrowed materials for a good three months, so we had plenty of time to read all of the 40+ materials we had borrowed… and yes, as a busy mom of three, I still haven’t finished reading all of them… you know how it is. 

Here’s what we have been reading from the library during our COVID-19 social isolation period. On this post, I’ll show you the children’s picture books we borrowed and read.

Children’s Picture Books We Read during COVID-19

 

Barbara Reid Picture Books

Our family loves Barbara Reid. I would say she is our favourite illustrator. Her Plasticine art is beautiful and unique, and we love looking for the little details she adds in every picture. I would like to eventually collect all of the books she has ever illustrated. I know they sell some Barbara Reid treasuries, but I’ve never found one that contains every book. I’d love to buy each of them individually. You know what else I would love to do some day? Commission some art from her… though I’m not sure she even does that. And even if she does, I likely couldn’t afford it… Anyway! Here are the Barbara Reid books we borrowed and (as usual) loved.

Picture the Sky, by Barbara Reid

I love this book, and every time I read it, I discover new little details. The nice things to look for start with the endpapers, where many of Reid’s previous Plasticine illustrations are included.

There are lots of little details to delight children and adults alike in this book. The story tells of all the different ways we can picture the sky, using both literal ways to look up and notice the clouds and birds, as well as metaphors for how the sky may be viewed and how it can inspire.

Like all Reid’s books, the illustrations in each of the pages are well detailed and beautiful. One of my favourite pages is the boardwalk scene, where a tired father is taking a quick nap beside his baby… and he has two different shoes on. And, while everyone around him is dreaming up different things, his dream bubble is blank… that’s how tired he is. I can certainly relate!

Perfect Snow, by Barbara Reid

It’s no secret I do not like snow, and that although I’ve lived half my life in Canada, winter and I will never be on good terms. But I can still appreciate the beauty of snow (even if I’d prefer to look at it from my nice warm house… or in a fictional book, where the snow is made from Plasticine).

In Perfect Snow, Reid mixes her trademark Plasticine illustrations with ink and watercolour black and white panels. This is one of her many books where one of the illustrations is created as if viewed from above. I really like these; they literally give you a different perspective on the scene, and there’s even more little details to notice.

The story follows a group of children as they have fun during a snowy day. It’s a lovely book because of the story, but even more so because of the beautiful Plasticine art. I’m not a fan of the mixing of the panels with the Plasticine; I prefer her books with just the modelling clay art and/or the ones where she incorporates found objects, such as in Subway Mouse.

Subway Mouse, by Barbara Reid

I love this book. It tells the story of Nib, a subway mouse in search of adventure in Tunnel’s End. Reid combines her beautiful Plasticine illustrations with found objects to create endearing illustrations in this lovely story about love, “leaving the nest,” and finding yourself.

The Party, by Barbara Reid

In this beautifully illustrated book that won the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature in 1997, Reid uses her gorgeous illustrations to tell the story of two sisters enjoying a great party. As with many stories, whether fictional or in real life, the children start out not really caring to go on an outing. Then they have so much fun they don’t want to leave. I love both the way the story is told as well as the gorgeous illustrations that accompany it.

Books we read during the pandemic, part 1, www.marianamcdougall.com

Gifts, by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Barbara Reid

I love this story, because it’s about a grandma who loves to travel… I hope to be that grandma one day 🙂 It’s also about how the greatest gifts aren’t necessarily material things… someone can be happy if they’re given “100 songs [they] can sing,” or the memory of a sunrise or the sound of a hummingbird’s whirring wings.

Perhaps my favourite illustration in this book is the one of the exquisite teapot on the title page. It’s absolutely gorgeous. And I didn’t even know they made gold-coloured Plasticine. Or perhaps Reid painted the clay after she molded it. Regardless, it’s a gorgeous illustration. I also love the details of the flags on the backpack, which change with each country the grandma visits. By the end of the book, the backpack is covered in little flags (much like my laptop was covered in stickers). You also get to watch the granddaughter grow up as the story continues. It’s a perfect book, really. No wonder it won so many awards.

Effie, by Beverley Allinson, illustrated by Barbara Reid

We actually own this book, but M-girl was nevertheless adamant that we borrow it from the library. Perhaps it’s because the library’s version was hard cover and ours is paperback? Who knows. This is a very cute story about a very loud ant who doesn’t fit in to the small-bug world around her… until one day, when her loud voice saves them all from being squished by an elephant. I love both the story as well as the illustrations. I think the kids like it for the same reason they like Wordy Bird—because their Mama is chatty and loud 🙂

Picture a Tree, by Barbara Reid

Picture a Tree may be one of my favourites by Barbara Reid. There are so may little things that make this book great. I love the juxtaposition of how a tree “can be a high-rise home sweet home,” showing off all the animals that live within it, in front of an actual high-rise where families and individuals can be seen through the windows. I love the page where trees are described as “baby trees, in-betweens, grown-ups, and grandfathers,” and as the trees grow, you can also see people in different stages of life standing and living life next to each tree.

But my very favourite page is probably the one whose awesome detail I didn’t even notice until the third or fourth time I read the book: the illustration set in the winter time, where clouds behind the trees or birds on the tree branches mimic the hairstyles of the people waiting at a bus stop. The endpapers of this book also include many examples of Reid’s previous illustrations. 

Robert Munsch/Michael Martchenko Picture Books

 

Bookshelf full of books. Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash.

 

So, I have to be honest. Even though my favourite picture book is by Robert Munsch (The Paperbag Princess), I’m actually not a fan of Munsch books (other than the one I just mentioned, of course). The kid characters are often brats in these stories, and the parents are always pushovers. The stories also go on forever, which for the target audience, seems over the top, but maybe I just feel that way because I had been trying to read these stories to a kid with ADHD, but I digress.

The kids do like Munsch, so we read these books and have conversations about the behaviours depicted in them. I’ll always choose a conversation about not-so-great storylines versus prohibiting my kids from reading books I may not like, but that’s a post for another day. For now, here are the books written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko that we got on our last library haul:

Playhouse

In this story, a girl wants a playhouse that ends up becoming a second house. Her parents, as usual in Munsch books, bend to the kid’s every request, until they finally have enough and make a play kid, then feed play food to the real kid. It’s kind of funny, but not really my style of storytelling.

Ready, Set, Go

This is a cute story about a kid who needs to get her father some water during a race. Racers basically ignore the kid and tell her to get off the course, but she ends up winning the race. The illustrations poke a little fun at some racers (racers wearing tutus…) It’s a cute story, but again, not my favourite.

The Enormous Suitcase

This is an interesting book that features a child of divorced parents. The girl says that she thinks she should live in one house and the parents should visit her instead of her having to go back and forth between houses. I’m sure many children of divorced parents dislike the shuttling back and forth, but I’d never thought about a kid living in their own house while the parents do the hard work of visiting him/her… a very interesting thought. It should noted that I am a child of divorced parents.

As usual, there’s a lot of disrespect towards parents going on in the storyline—one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of these books. The girl waits until her mother is not looking and basically kidnaps the dog to take it to her father’s house, after her mother strictly forbids her to do so. That’s not OK in my books, obviously, and I don’t find it funny. The girl also leaves the house without telling her mother, which again… not OK, and not funny. The mother has to call the kid to tell her that the dog will eat the father’s cat.

The book ends with the cat and dog getting along because it’s “amazing how things can work out if you just try.” But then the cat eats the goldfish, because “it turns out that some things just do not work out, no matter how hard you try.”

Listen, I get the point. But the kids who are old enough to get the subtlety of the message are a lot older than the target audience for this book, who will likely be at least somewhat traumatized by the death of a pet at the hands of another pet… and there’s a lot of layers of problematic messaging here, but that’s true of most Munsch books, so no surprise there.

Seeing Red

Seeing Red tells the story of a boy with black hair who wants to have red hair, and a boy with red hair who wants to have black hair. The two boys instigate one another to eat all kinds of things to turn their hair the desired colour, which of course doesn’t work for either of them, but hopefully gives the audience a laugh… meh, it doesn’t do anything for me. By the end of the book they just decide to have the same colour hair as one another by dying it purple. And after reading this book, we had a conversation about being happy with the body we have. It’s OK to dye our hair for fun, but it’s also important to love ourselves exactly as we are.

Down the Drain!

This is yet another book where the kid is extremely manipulative and the parent is a pushover. I don’t even find it that funny, to be honest. The story revolves around forgetting a bathtub unplugged, which results in a flooded bathroom, which then results in the kids, the cat, the dog, and a bunch of other things going down the drain. Everyone makes it out safely and gets cleaned up (by the mother, who makes a phone call on the cell phone while bathing everyone, so the flooding doesn’t happen again).

Other Children’s Picture Books we Read During COVID-19

Three children reading on a couch

StoryBots ABC Jamboree, written by Scott Emmons, illustrated by Taylor Price

I really, really dislike alphabet books… they go on forever and the storyline is almost never interesting… if there’s a storyline at all. But the little ones loved this book. To be fair, there’s a lot of interesting little illustrations that you may not notice the first time you read this, so each time you read it, you discovered new little things on the pages. Each page in this book focuses on one letter of the alphabet, providing a rhyme containing several words that start with that letter. The illustrations are pretty neat, especially the one for the letter “O,” which has an underwater ostrich (which is the “oddest thing we’ve seen”), and an orca singing opera. 

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, by Drew Daywalt, illustrations by Adam Rex

This is a really neat book about how the game of rock, paper, scissors began. It tells the story of three mighty warriors who simply could not be defeated, until they met with each other and did battle for time unending. Can you guess who the warriors were? Pretty cool illustrations.

I Love My Hair, by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

This books has absolutely gorgeous watercolour illustrations. I’m not usually a huge fan of watercolour, but these are exquisite. The cover illustration in particular is really beautiful; the girl really comes to life in it.

The book tells the story of a Black girl who loves her beautiful hair. And for anyone who’s struggled to brush their kids’ tangled hair, the story will be relatable. The mother tells the child she’s lucky to have such wonderful hair that can be worn in any style she chooses. The book also addresses the issue of discrimination/bullying based on hair, and it treats this sensitive subject in a way that feels age-appropriate for the target audience. I loved the book and so did my children.

Knit Together, by Angela Dominguez

I really loved this book. It tells the story of a mother and daughter who are creative in their own way, joining forces to create something special together. I particularly like this as someone who isn’t crafty or a “maker” of tangible items, but who is creative with words. We each have our own talents, and it’s much nicer to recognize each other’s talents and create something special together, rather than comparing our abilities.

I Love My Purse, by Belle Demont, Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

This book tells the story of a boy who loves his purse, and, in being himself, encourages others to do the same. Many people tell the main character that boys don’t wear bright red purses, but he simply says, “but I love my purse,” and goes on with his day. In the process, he sees other characters questioning and breaking societal conventions that restrict their creativity and way of being. It’s a really lovely book with nice illustrations and a good message: be yourself. 

 

A Ticket Around The World, by Natalia Diaz and Melissa Owens, illustrated by Kim Smith

I like this book because it starts with words that resonate with me: “I love to travel. The more places I visit, the more friends I make and the more things I discover.” I could have written those words 🙂 I also love it because it features several countries, one of which is Brazil. And on the Brazil page, the authors and illustrator showcase some of Brazil’s diversity of landscape, such as mentioning the plains and showing cities in the central and south regions as well as some animals from the North’s Amazon region. And they mention that the South of Brazil gets snow sometimes, which most non-Brazilians don’t know. 

Other countries the main character visits are Canada, the US, France, Morocco, Greece, Jordan, India, China, the Philippines, Botswana, and Australia. The Canadian page showcases our country’s vast landscape and highlights our French, Anglophone, and Indigenous cultures. I am somewhat confused (and perhaps a little disappointed) that while indigenous people are mentioned as the first inhabitants of Canada, the same is not done for Brazil’s indigenous people. This is highly problematic, since Brazil’s indigenous people still suffer extreme persecution and violence in the name of economic growth. I would really like to see a second edition of this book that talks about Brazil’s true roots as well as its diverse population, though I understand there’s only so much you can fit into a picture book.

A First Book of The Sea, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

I love the blurb for this book: “…the sea has a magic that calls us to play, explore, and dream.” That’s exactly the way I feel about the ocean.

This book is a collection of poems about the ocean and the things that live within it, and it’s beautifully illustrated. It was published in 2018, and I believe the library acquired it in 2019. I may be wrong, but we might be the first people to take this copy out of the library—the spine was not cracked and the pages looked beautifully fresh.

The book is divided into 4 parts: Down by the Shore, Journeys, Under the Sea, and Wonders. Each part presents poems about its theme, and they are really lovely. The illustrations really bring the words to life as well. The poems are both rhyming and not. They are all short, but put together, they make a wonderful collection as a book about the wonders of the sea. I really love the illustrations in this book and could spend hours pouring over their many details. This is a book I will more than likely buy to keep at home.

Fancy Nancy & the Delectable Cupcakes, by Jane O’Connor, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

We love the Fancy Nancy series. Fancy Nancy is so fancy. Even her words are fancy. This is a great series for building vocabulary and for encouraging children’s imaginations. There are also some life lessons sprinkled throughout the books. In this adventure, Nancy has a hard time listening, and ends up ruining some cupcakes. But it turns out she’s not the only person in her family who isn’t a great listener… there’s still a happy ending, and lots of lovely words to be learned along the way.

Fancy Nancy and the Spectacular Spectacles

In this adventure, Nancy’s best friend, Bree, gets eyeglasses. Nancy tries her hardest to show that she needs glasses too, but in the end, decides that a fun pair of “faux” fancy glasses are just as good—maybe even better, for her.

Doll-e 1.0

This is the second or third time the kids have taken this book out. It’s a lovely story about a girl who’s obsessed with technology, and happens to be a bit of a programming genius. When she’s given a doll, she’s not quite happy until she can make the doll a better toy, by using… you guessed it, her tech skills. I really like that it shows that kids can be both nurturing as well as creative by combining old toys with new tech.

Stay tuned for a post about other books we read during the pandemic. What have you been reading during your social isolation?

 

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